The Coronavirus and Mental Health.

So, we’re in the midst of this pandemic and there is so much information on the virus itself and the importance of social distancing and staying at home to contain it’s spread.  Of course I think that any measures taken to reduce the spread of this are necessary, but I do worry that the mental health issues associated with this isolation, for everyone and not just the mentally ill, aren’t being addressed as much as they maybe should be.

We are social creatures, aren’t we?  We need people and the groups around us (family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc.) to provide needed benefits – most importantly, meeting our emotional and social needs.  And since the isolation (both physical and emotional) and distancing we need to practice for at least the next couple of weeks is in place, I believe we are going to suffer mentally because of it.

Isolation and loneliness are 2 big concerns right now, particularly for the elderly and those who are already experiencing these issues.  And, I do believe we will see even more of an influence of these now.  You can be isolated and not lonely, and lonely and not isolated, but for many, these 2 things go hand in hand.  Choosing to be alone, and enjoying that time, is much different than being forced into isolation!  And people choose to be ‘alone’ among ‘groups’ often times anyway.  Going to the store, getting to the library, working out at a gym.  These might be done ‘alone’ or by yourself, but there are still people around who you can interact with to a degree.  Home-bound isolation is a different thing.  People can go from alone to lonely pretty quick in this circumstance.  Take a look at this article published in 2019 on social isolation which states:

There is…”evidence linking perceived social isolation with adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life.”  “In addition…(it was) found that social isolation increases the risk of premature death from every cause for every race…”.
Obviously, this is for more long-term isolation, but the implications are clear.  Isolation has a huge consequence on people and their health.  

Families are also suffering.  My mom lives by herself and has a very active social life.  With so many fears of the virus regarding the elderly, mom and her friends have cancelled their weekly activities.  I know this is going to affect her mood, and I worry she’ll go out to a store or something, just to be around people which can put her at risk.  As much as my sis and I tell her not too, she’s very stubborn.  Since I was in Florida for a week and flew out of Tampa which is a ‘hotbed’ of the virus, I don’t want to be around her just in case I have the virus without showing signs yet.  So, we are isolated from each other too.

My sister is worried about her grandchildren as well, and looks forward to seeing them often during the week.  Missing out on that interaction is hard for all of them.  Plus, one of my nephews has a serious condition which could require medical attention at any time.  How scary that hospitals might be over-run and medical attention is delayed.  Not being to be around our families is a great hardship for so many! 

And then you add other factors into the mix:  fear, anxiety, stress, confusion, helplessness, and powerlessness to name a few.  We all, I think, are feeling these to some degree.  As much as the news upsets me regarding all of what’s happening right now, I don’t want to stay away from it either since I need information to keep myself and family safe!  It’s a Catch 22!  The news makes us more stressed and fearful, but the info provided is important! 

Anytime you see stress increase, you see a greater likelihood of domestic violence and child abuse.  Will this time increase the already huge numbers of victims of family violence?  And, we know that high levels of stress can cause physical sickness (high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.).  Furthermore, the stress isn’t going to end after the isolation is lifted.  Businesses are losing customers or closing down for a period of time, and economists are saying we’ll suffer a strong recession which will continue this stress for an extended period of time.   And, I know that stress over money is one of the BIGGEST stressors a couple faces in their relationship. 

I really worry that for the mentally ill, these issues can exacerbate their conditions.  Making anxiety disorders worsen, depression to deepen.  Also, will counselors or behavioral health centers stop seeing clients?  Will meds get filled on time?   Will AA and NA meetings be able to continue? Then what about people who are schizophrenic and have paranoid delusions?  Will this worsen their thinking with all of the conspiracy theories circling around right now? 

Finally, I also wonder how our world, our own society, will be changed because of this time.  Will we continue more isolating behaviors out of fear another virus could be around the corner?  Will people start getting more and more of their needs met through non-contact ways such as social media?  Will students, who have never taken online classes but are now forced to work online for at least a couple of weeks, find the classes to be more convenient and our on-campus students numbers decrease?  Will people become disgusted with society because how some are behaving, and come to see society as a more dangerous place than they had perceived it before?  The questions are endless.

So, what do I think we can do to lessen some of these effects?  Here’s my list:

  1. Stay on a schedule.  Get up at a regular time, have a daily plan with meals, work, etc. and structure your time accordingly.  
  2. Get outside!  Sidewalks, parks, hiking trails…none of these are closed and being outside, and especially around nature, can be comforting and uplifting.
  3. Do some cardio!  Those of us with depression know that cardio actually increases the production of endorphins and neurotransmitters, and improves sleep too!  All of this can help alleviate feelings of depression!
  4. Keep connected to family and friends.  This is a great time to use social media for connection (but be careful, too much social media use can backfire…particularly with so many loud opinions being broadcast!).  Also, instead of calls or texts, video chat for a more personal experience.  
  5. Help others.  Reach out to your older neighbors and let them know you are willing to run errands for them or get their refills picked up.  Let them know you are around if they need something done!
  6. Tackle yard and house chores.  I’m going to use some of my time to get my darn closets cleaned out and then get my yard all raked for spring.  Things I have trouble finding time to do!  Put these chores on your calendar to keep you on track!
  7. Take breaks from work.  Working remotely, as some of us are doing, is very different than being in an office or around students.  Make sure you take breaks from the computer often, and don’t try to do 8 hours of work in 3 just to get done!  Spacing out your time can help relieve the tediousness.
  8. Try a new hobby.  You don’t need to go to the store to get a pencil and paper…watch a youtube video on drawing and see what you can do!  Or, if you have some supplies (paints, crayons, glue, yarn, fabric), learn to crochet or knit…watercolor…decoupage!  
  9. Give yourself a break!  This is important…being around kids, family, etc. in a close environment can be stressful, and taking a short walk, nap, or just a time-out might help with these situations.  
  10. Keep your kids structured and engaged as well.  There are so many places publishing free content for kids right now, and doing these activities together can be fun!  Here’s a great website to give you some activity ideas, and then a fun e-learning site with a ton of lessons.  And, take a look at this:  

There are so many questions we have…and not a lot of answers.  But I do believe these issues are going to have a huge impact on everyone’s mental health, and possibly worsen those already dealing with an mental illness.  Let’s all take care of ourselves and families the best we can, and reach out if we need help.  Stay healthy and safe and if you have any other ideas to share, please comment below!

Kristi xoxo

Author: Kristi

Just a bipolar Professor working to end the stigma of mental illness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s